Distressed Painted Finish

Article - November 14, 2010

So finally, the Advent Calendar is complete. I decided to do a distressed finish and venture into a world I am not 100% comfortable in: painting. When I used to work in a refinishing shop, any “painting” was done using shop-made concoctions from lacquer and UTC pigments. So truth be told, I have never actually painted one of my projects. And I certainly have never tried a faux distressed painted finish! So why not make my first attempt with the camera rolling? That’s always fun! Now let me cut to the punch line and tell you things didn’t go as planned. But lets start at the beginning.

The process begins with a simple base coat of color: green for the top and red for the base. I used General Finishes Milk Paint which, despite the name, is just a high quality acrylic paint. After two coats of base color, I applied two light coats of Minwax Polycrylic satin. Once the clear coat dried, I applied several coats of antique white paint. Time to get distressed!

The distressing is done using nothing more than sandpaper. The idea is to cut through the top white coat and expose the green base coat beneath. The intermediate clear coat acts as a protective layer that helps prevent sanding too far. So how much do you sand? Well I don’t think there is a right answer here. Its a matter of how much base color you want to see and how distressed you want the piece to look. My goal was to distress the top moderately, but go pretty heavy on the base. Everything went rather well so I stenciled the numbers, added my door knobs and a star, and applied a couple clear coats.

What wasn’t immediately obvious to me at the time was that I made a pretty bad mistake. In my haste to get this project filmed, I didn’t think to remove all the dust from the sanding. And I don’t just mean a little vacuuming or a blast of compressed air. I mean a full wipe-down with paper towels and water. If you don’t do this, any green paint dust left on the surface essentially tuns into green dye when it touches the water-based clear coat. This isn’t so bad if green is the only color we are worried about, but our top color is white. And the final result looked like it had been drug behind the lawnmower on a hot summer day. I wasn’t completely happy but the show must go on right? I filmed the end of the video and I expressed my concerns about the “grass stains”. But given the time-frame and the nature of the project, a little extra green color wasn’t going to hurt anything. After saying it several times in multiple takes, I almost had myself convinced. Who am I kidding?!?! That paint job was going to drive me nuts! So the Advent Calendar went back in the shop for Round 2.

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do, but I knew it was going to start by removing the Polycrylic topcoat and the white paint. My rounded scraper and some sandpaper did the trick. At this point, I started thinking that if I could cover up the exposed wood with more green, and simply leave the remaining white flecks of paint, I might be in business. So I strategically applied green paint where needed, let it dry, and gave it a light sanding. And this time I was careful to wipe up all of my dust before applying the topcoat.

Although its not what I had originally planned, I like this version FAR more than the previous. In fact, I think showing more green in the front, while leaving the “roof” mostly white gives the piece more visual interest and a more festive look. Normally, I’m not into distressed finishes AT ALL. But some of my best learning experiences come from projects that don’t exactly suit my personal tastes. Over time, I not only expand my skill set, but I also find that my tastes change. And some day, I might just be thankful that I fuddled my way through a distressed painted finish!

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